Five young martial artists from Thompson competed in Minnesota at the 2012 Diamond Nationals World Karate Championships in Bloomington, Minnesota Oct. 12-13, returning home with a truckload of trophies after capturing three first places, five seconds and a pair of thirds.
"They've made me very proud," said Chris Wojciechowski, their instructor at Bae's Martial Arts in Thompson and the father of three of the competitors, who range in age from eight to 13 years old. "This calibre of competition, it's huge. I competed for 10 years at Diamond Nationals and never came first."
Christopher Wojciechowski and Landen Locke, both eight years old, took the top two spots in forms and sparring for their age division with Christopher taking top spot in forms and Landen second, while in sparring the order of their finish was reversed. Their instructor said he told them before the final sparring match that it wasn't important who won.
"When I knew that they were lining up, that they both were in the finals, then I pulled them in," he said. "We carry the philosophy that at that point it makes no difference. We are coming home with what we came to get. The crowd I think was expecting a much bigger show because they did phenomenal against the other competitors. They were pretty relaxed against each other. It was a boring fight. As an instructor and a father I just say I'm just proud."
Landen said while the actual competition was similar to other tournaments he's been in, the atmosphere at this one was a lot different. As he describes it, it was "crazy."
"There tons of people," he said, and he was very happy to finish with a first and a second place. "I was excited."
Christopher said the Diamond Nationals were a little more difficult than some other tournament because there were more competitors to fight through to make his way to the top.
"There were more people to face," he says.
Also competing at the tournament was Christopher's sister Brooklyn, 8 who finished third in both forms and sparring.
"It was very fun and I was happy that I got third place and I was happy with everything else," said Brooklyn.
The Locke family was also well-represented at the competition, with Landen's older brother Riley one of the other Thompson representatives of Bae's Martial Arts. He too says the atmosphere made this tournament special.
"Way different" than previous competitions was how Riley described it. "There were way more competitors. It's pretty nerve-racking but you've just got to go out there and do your best."
That's exactly what Riley did, coming first in forms and third in sparring.
"I felt pretty good about myself," he says.
Chris says Riley is an instructor's dream because of his ability to incorporate his coach's suggestions as he competes.
"Riley's got tremendous skills for the amount of time that he's been doing it," said Chris, who's been Riley's taekwondo teacher for about a year. "Most kids don't take to coaching. You can be yelling at them from the sideline and they don't tune in, right? The unique thing about Riley is that he will actually execute what I'm yelling from the sidelines. So that's a huge bonus because he's going to take the experience that I have and utilize it during the match."
The oldest of the Thompson competitors was Taylor Wojciechowski, 13, who says she had a physical advantage over most of the competitors she faced at the tournament, where she finished second in traditional forms and third in sparring.
"I was the tallest one, I'd say." Said Taylor, which is advantageous during sparring. "My legs are longer so it's easier to get to their chest faster."
To really make the most of that, though, she says she needs to be more aggressive.
"I need to go in after them and not wait for them to come to me," she says. "That's probably what I need to improve on."
Chris said it was an advantage for his athletes that they are affiliated with a mother club in Winnipeg, where he trained as a martial artist, because it gave them a larger group to rely on for support.
"It gives the kids a good foundation," he says. "They're not just like five northern kids down there amongst what I'm sure feels to them to be giants. We can stand in a larger group and feel a little more established."
He also says the credit for the strength of their performance lies with his students' commitment to improvement.
"Most kids today, it's hard to find some with the guts, who want the glory, who want to push through and persevere and win," he says. "When we get into class here, it's blood, sweat and tears until the end. We could train for four hours a night and still would feel like it's not enough. I couldn't do it if it wasn't for them. I feed off their energy. I could not be more proud of them for what they've done."